In September, 2018, Sherri’s Playhouse presented a radio play based on my Sir Julius Vogel Award winning story, The Thief’s Tale. Adapted for radio by my partner in darkness, Dan Rabarts, and directed by Sherri Rabinowitz, it was performed by the highly talented voice actors of Sherri’s Playhouse, including Cathy Kutz Arielle Strauss, Ty Pickett, J’nae Rae Spano and Raymond Brent and Michele Foster. Here are my reflections on the cast interview held before the premier
The Thief’s Tale it is the first work of mine to be performed live as a radio play, so naturally it’s been a thrill to see it come together. A couple of weeks ago, Dan and I were fortunate enough to hear the team at rehearsal. I knew the story would be different, since already Dan had added his flair to the work: cutting the chaff, sharpening key elements, adding accents and vocabulary to giving the play a more American feel. A narrator role had been added to clearly delineate the scenes, and small changes were made to accommodate the voice actors. What I hadn’t expected though, was the way the performers had made the characters their own, reinventing them to suit their individual performance styles and adding nuance and texture to replace visual imagery of the original text. They had taken the story and made it something else. As Dan said, “they took it off the page.” For me, the writer, it was a pivotal moment, the work no longer mine, or even Dan’s: it had become a group collaboration.
Today, in the lead up to the performance, some of the cast got together for a chat about their experiences while rehearing The Thief’s Tale. I listened in to the interview and learned even more about their acting processes and the methods employed to interpret the story. I was intrigued to learn that voice actors often look for inspiration to embody those character as they understand them. Ty Pickett’s inspiration for the gardener, for example, is derived from a badger. Ty saw the gardener as a rough, earthy individual, and stand-offish. Someone grabbing and hungry with their snout in the ground. When the gardener encounters the story’s main character, Whitney, and she goes on the attack, the gardener becomes defensive, another reason Ty chose a badger, since when cornered it will reveals its claws and fangs. “I also needed a lumbering counterpoint to Whitney’s light and brightness and the badger seemed to fulfil that role,” Ty said.
Raymond Brent also drew his inspiration from an animal, envisaging Marty, the mayor’s henchman, as a pup running alongside a bulldog, trying to please him. "Marty’s a bit like Lenny from Of Mice and Men, although older mentally,” Raymond said.
Another aspect I found interesting was the repertoire of voices in the actors’ have available to them. J’nae, who plays two roles, including one non-human, explained that there are “decisions an actor has to make about whether to use a head voice, chest voice, or a speaking voice, and also accents, since these all contribute to the characterisation.” Also playing two roles, Arielle described how she’s elected to use a high bubbly voice for the pushy in-your-face saleswoman, and a low, ‘out of it’ voice for Linda, the party girl in the story. Fortunately, the two parts have some separation in the play, which acts as a palate cleanser for Arielle between roles.
The sound effect list is enormous. It seems Dan got a bit carried away, which might be the due to his background in drama. However, I’m told the sounds haven’t just been plonked in accompany plot events in the story. Instead, they've been used to convey the story's tone, with the natural sounds becoming unnatural as the story and the horror unfolds. I can’t wait to see how those diegetic sounds layered over the actors’ performances influence my experience of the story.
Overall, all players agreed that The Thief’s Tale is a slow-build in the Lovecraft style with the horror arising from not knowing if any of the characters might flip at any time. “People aren’t that nice, but you aren’t alarmed by it,” Director Sherri said and Ty agreed. “The audience are aware that people are wearing masks. It’s a good old town, with people on the street and there is already sense of distrust. There’s an innocence that plays well into this,” he said. Raymond likened the play to the movie Jaws, where the reader doesn’t see the threat, but “the fear is already instilled in the audience.” J’nae said that horror is best left to the imagination. She gave the example of Pet Cemetery, perhaps the most faithful adaption of a King stories, where she said the horror conjured in her mind was more terrifying that what she saw onscreen.
Apparently, I’ve included a lot of references to food in the story, something I wasn’t aware of, but which the actors made a point of mentioning. Since the story is a slow-burn, taking place over a number of days, I suspect I have used food as a way of showing that extended timeline with meals marking the passage of time. I understand that we should listen out for the ‘bacon of doom’ in the final performance.
While my original story was set down under in the imaginary town of Refuge, the radio play version created by Dan was set in the south. However, the cast felt the play could work equally well in any small-town setting. “We’ve set it in the south, but it could be small town anywhere,” J’nae said. “Some plays it doesn’t matter where it is set,” Ty said. “It’s the story. It’s a universal story. This makes it more acceptable to a wider audience…It’s not so much culturally thematic but about the human experience.” Sherri agreed, “Everyone understands core stuff: fear, avarice, needing to be home…” Ty concluded, “That innate fear of becoming the prey is true across all animal life."
These last comments are interesting since the The Thief’s Tale was written for the charity anthology The Refuge Collection, published by Steve Dillon at OzHorror Australia and includes stories from Ramsey Campbell, Kaaron Warren, Paul Kane, and Chris McCorkindale to name just a few. The imaginary town of Refuge, where the stories are all set, was intended as a sanctuary, but this term means different things to different people, and of course, there is no guarantee of solace. I’m very proud that proceeds from the collection are used to support the work of Sanctuary Australia in easing the suffering of refugees. As well as wonderful radio play by Sherri’s Playhouse, audiences can listen to the The Thief’s Tale on audible, or pick up the print version HERE.
The cast interview for The Thief’s Tale is available on blogtalk radio HERE.
The Thief’s Tale premiered on Sherri’s Playhouse on Monday 10 September 2018. You can listed for free HERE.